The Minnesota Legislature convened on Tuesday, January 5, 2021, to begin what is expected to be a five-month session. Dave Renner, CAE, our legislative rep, shares a recap of these first weeks and reviews the MAFP’s legislative priorities for 2021.
Session Begins with a Heavy Heart
Legislative session began with a heavy heart for many when we learned of the death of long-time Minnesota Medical Association (MMA) lobbyist Eric Dick.
Senator Matt Klein, MD (DFL-Mendota Heights), said, “Eric Dick was a model of advocacy with integrity at the State Capitol. He was good at what he did, because he believed in the power of good government to ensure ethical and accessible health care for all. He was unfailingly kind, hopeful, informed and professional. The physicians of the MMA were well represented, but more importantly, so were their patients.”
We will all miss Eric, his guidance, love of good policy and welcoming personality.
New Legislators & Committee Overviews
There are 21 new members of the House of Representatives and 10 new members of the Senate. While the elections did not change the leadership of either body—Democrats leading the House and Republicans leading the Senate—there are new committees and new committee members.
As with the start of every new legislature, the first two weeks have mostly been filled with overview hearings. Both bodies have started with virtual-only meetings, with buildings closed to the public and all hearings over Zoom.
Most hearings are designed to outline key issues that the committees will be dealing with. For the health care committees that means presentations from the Department of Human Services on the Medical Assistance program, the MinnesotaCare program, and funding for nursing homes, assisted living facilities and disability programs; presentations from the Minnesota Department of Health on COVID-19, vaccine distribution and other public health programs; and presentations from the Department of Commerce on how we regulate health insurance companies.
With the roll out of the COVID-19 vaccine, many committees have focused on vaccine distribution. Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm and Director of Infectious Disease Prevention Kris Ehresmann, RN, MPH, have presented on how the Minnesota Department of Health is receiving and distributing the COVID-19 vaccine. Because of the limited supply of vaccines, many questions are being raised over how best to get the vaccine to the highest priority populations in the quickest manner.
Physicians in the House & Senate
The Minnesota Legislature has two fewer physicians in 2021, with the retirements of MAFP members Alice Mann, MD, MPH (DFL – Lakeville), from the House, and Scott Jensen, MD (R – Chaska), from the Senate.
Representative Kelly Morrison, MD (DFL – Deephaven), an OB/GYN, is still serving in the House, and Senator Matt Klein, MD (DFL – Sunfish Lake), an internal medicine hospitalist, in still serving in the Senate.
MAFP Legislative Committee: Focus for 2021
The MAFP Legislative Committee, co-chaired by Pat Fontaine, MD, MS, and Jamie Conniff, MD, MPH, has developed priorities for the 2021 session. It is an aggressive agenda designed to focus on the needs of patients and helping Minnesota family physicians meet those needs.
Specific priorities for 2021 include:
- Working to transition our health care payment systems away from fee-for-service to models that reward health, prevention and management of chronic conditions.
- Investing in primary care to ensure continuous, comprehensive care for patients.
- Continuing the expanded coverage for telehealth and telephone services.
- Decoupling health coverage from employment.
- Addressing primary care workforce shortages through investment in more loan forgiveness programs.
- Ensuring on-going coverage for needed medications by limiting insurers ability to change drug formularies during the patient’s contract year.
In addition, the MAFP will remain vigilant in ensuring access to reproductive health care, in preventing gun violence through common sense gun safety measures, working to ban conversion therapy and actively working to dismantle structural racism that affects patient’s health.